The ‘Her’ Soundtrack: William Butler’s Underrated Masterpiece

In 2013, Spike Jonze blessed the world with one of the most emotionally raw movies in recent history. Starring Joaquin Phoenix as a man who falls in love with an operating system, ‘Her’ tells a story of an unlikely pair struggling to survive in a judgemental and  highly technological future America. The film was well regarded, but one aspect that managed to fly under the radar was quite possibly my favorite movie score of all time. Arcade Fire’s Will Butler and Owen Pallett of Final Fantasy took the helm, with appearances from Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The ideas aren’t all original- it is known that Arcade Fire was working on the first drafts of ‘Reflektor’ around the same time, and you can absolutely hear similarities between the two, in “Supersymmetry” specifically, a track that was originally written for the film. The complexities in Arcade Fire’s music are apparent in Will Butler’s score for sure, but the disco-driven beats of ‘Reflektor’ are swapped out for piano-driven minimalism and swift but low-profile electronic loops, creating an equally emotional but stripped-down sound that matches the tone of the movie as well as its technological themes impeccably. Listen to key tracks “Song on the Beach” and “Photograph” for a tonal glimpse at the movie’s melodic center. The melodies and style mimic that of an early Erik Satie, but it’s rare that a piano composition can contain such emotion as this, and such varied emotion too. It’s hard to tell what’s trying to be conveyed here- the songs would do an equally fine job accompanying a rainy day as they would a look into a loved one’s eyes. But that’s how love is, and that’s how ‘Her’ is. Behind every smile lies a struggle, and even as the protagonists’ lives tumble downhill, you can’t help but to hear a glimmer of hope. Rare is it that a score follows its source material so perfectly. Mainly due to the fact that it isn’t for sale, Will Butler’s oscar-nominated composition was largely forgotten after awards season. But for me, it’s hard to look at Arcade Fire’s long and ever-changing discography without including the ‘Her’ soundtrack, in part because it played huge part in creating ‘Reflektor’, but mainly because it’s completely gorgeous, and when you look past the band’s usual lush instrumentation and groundbreaking concepts, it may just be the most genuine thing they’ve ever done. I’ve left a couple links below for your enjoyment. Say Happy 4th Birthday to ‘Reflektor’ this Saturday by giving it a listen, and have a great weekend.